Delivering life-saving education in Ethiopia

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry has received $4.4 million in federal funding to help reduce the death and illness rates of mothers and newborn babies in Ethiopia. Currently, one in eight mothers dies from pregnancy-related complications in the developing country, meaning 25,000 mothers die each year.

The two main goals for the faculty and its partner agencies in Canada and Ethiopia are to improve midwifery training programs and improve the referral system of care in emergency birth situations. Many midwife educators are recent graduates themselves and have no real-life experience with handling high-risk deliveries. And with the current health-care referral system in Ethiopia, mothers requiring emergency care during delivery aren’t getting the care they need soon enough.

“Ethiopia has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world, which leaves thousands of children orphaned and thousands of men widowed every year,” says David Zakus, the faculty’s director of global health and the primary lead for the project. “We believe by working together with other agencies, we can reduce the death rate for mothers and babies by 30 per cent in our catchment area, which is in sections of the provinces of Amhara and Oromia.”

Educators within the faculty hope to improve the midwife curriculum by ensuring midwife trainers get real-life experience, and know what to do in high-risk delivery scenarios and when to seek additional help. Faculty members also want to increase the number of both trainers and midwives.

Another goal is to better educate rural Ethiopian women about the benefits of having a midwife or health-care provider on site during delivery. Right now, about half of all mothers in urban areas have a midwife or health expert during delivery. In rural areas, that number drops to four per cent.

Ensuring babies and mothers receive followup care is also vital, says Zakus, because complications can develop after delivery, leaving women with lifelong health issues.

The Canadian International Development Agency is providing the five-year grant of $4.4 million for this project.

The Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry is taking the lead on this international effort, but is partnering with numerous organizations and universities in Canada, as well as the St. Paul Hospital Millennium Medical College in Ethiopia and the federal health ministry there. The Canadian partners include Mount Royal University’s midwifery and nursing programs, the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, the Canadian Network for International Surgery, the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada and the Ethiopian North American Health Providers Association.

Lia Tadesse, vice-provost for medical services at the St. Paul Hospital Millennium Medical College in Ethiopia, says the initiative is critical.

“With the death of a mother every day, our country suffers as the family of each dead mother starts to crumble and die. The suffering and burden of neonatal mortality is also extremely high. Enabling personnel to save the lives of mothers and children is saving a nation and promoting development.

“Therefore we are very excited about working with the University of Alberta, not only in increasing the number of skilled birth attendants, but also to give them the necessary knowledge and skills to perform safe delivery and to know when to refer in the event of complications, especially in the underserved areas. The vast experience of the University of Alberta in collaboration with the other coalition members, like the Mount Royal University Bachelor of Midwifery Program, is a great opportunity not only for our institution, but also for our nation.”